Dams' impact causes concern

Ken McIntyre
Ken McIntyre
Contact Energy's renewed plans for more hydro generation on the Clutha River will have a significant impact on Queenstown residents, even though they live a long way from the main proposed dam site at Tuapeka Mouth, a local teacher says.

Ken McIntyre, an outdoor education teacher at Wakatipu High School, has issued a "call to arms" for Queenstown locals, saying if that dam is built - or indeed any of the four options Contact announced recently - Queenstown school pupils will be affected.

Mr McIntyre (48) runs a three-day river skills and kayaking course once a year, involving up to 20 students, on the Clutha River, from Millers Flat down to Beaumont, an area that would be inundated by a 3400ha lake stretching 50km up the river should a 50m high, 350MW dam be built near Tuapeka Mouth.

"People around here need to understand some of their kids are going to miss out if this happens," he said.

"Any of these dams will affect people in this neck of the woods. The Clutha is New Zealand's last big river and a tremendous amount of recreational activity will be lost."

Could his outdoor skills courses not be held elsewhere?

"True, they could, but where? The fact is, there really aren't any big, safe, open rivers around here for our students."

His most recent course was held last month and pupils were based at the Millers Flat camping ground, where they learned to deal with unfamiliar things, such as using a Zip hot water heater. They also saw a speed shearing contest.

"Queenstown kids, I feel, need to be exposed to a little bit more country life."

This is not the first time Mr McIntyre has been opposed to more dams being built on the Clutha River.

He was active in the 1980s when the former Electricity Corporation's plans sparked a "Hands Off Beaumont" protest movement.

He is originally from South Otago and taught at South Otago High School in Balclutha, running the Beaumont Dambusters multi-sport event there for several years before moving to Queenstown in 1990.

He urged Wakatipu residents to become more familiar with what Contact Energy was proposing for the Clutha and what could be lost if any dams were built.

"A lot of people drive down that road and are probably more concerned about getting over the [one way] Beaumont bridge without being held up.

"But I'd urge them to go up the Millennium Track [the back road from Beaumont to Millers Flat] where they'd see a big river still relatively unscathed. It is just beautiful," he said.